Alternative Punishment
rating: +15+x


"Excuse me?" Antony asked.

"Banishment," the woman answered. "You are forbidden from stepping foot onto territory controlled or monitored by the Foundation starting today. This includes outer space and parallel dimensions."

"This is ridiculous. I've been at this Site for seven years, that's not a thing that happens. How would that even play out?"

"Let me give you some advice," the woman said, leaning in close to Antony. "It was a 7-6 decision for this punishment, and you know too much for us to simply remove your memories and reintroduce you to society. It's this or execution."

Antony chose to crush the arm of his office chair, rather than bury his face into the computer terminal on his desk. Of course exposing a bureaucratic system would lead to a bureaucratic response. He waited for an unreasonably rickety bridge to erupt out of the floor, leading to an arena of red horns and pitchforks.

"What does that leave me, then? Where am I supposed to go?" Antony said.

The woman pushed her drooping glasses back onto her face. "Well, I suppose that leaves you with nowhere." The door soundlessly marked her exit.

Antony's face toppled into his hands. He couldn't tell whether the liquid staining the sleeves of his shirt was sweat or tears, but he didn't care. Anything that would absorb this moment would suffice. His head was spinning, and he knew it would only be a few moments before the rest of his body received the doomsday signal.

It started in his heart, which drummed painfully across his rib cage and spine. Blood gushed through his veins. Electricity dripped along the overcharged wiring in his brain. He felt his soul mutate into a fiery, formless state. Before he could work out a way to calm himself, his legs gave way.

Antony collapsed onto the terminal, a paint-peeling screech choked his eyes and ears. He scoured his surroundings, but found no source. It had to be an anomaly, a specter designed to torture him. Blood began slowly trickling out of his ears, staining his hair. His hands pounced at the monitor, grabbing and clawing like a rabid animal. The computer nearly detached from the table.

His arms became weak; years worth of wailing had whittled his strength to nothing. His fingers uncurled, and nerves across his body flared. He wondered if this was his punishment, the alternative. He would have his life, but only the mangled piece that remained. With a single granule of energy left, Antony lurched into the edge of the screen.

The sound of rubbing glass filled the air as the monitor gave way. Inch by inch, it stretched and widened beyond the limits of the terminal. It flew across the office, engulfing everything in black glass. Antony collapsed to the sanitized carpet, the specter still roaring even in the face of his creation.

It was a door.

After a handful of moments, it awoke, sucking the color out of the world. A whirlwind of light and pain and sound flooded past Antony. Dingy glass turned to wood, dull grays turned to brass. His muscles defrosted, and he took in a grateful breath. When the storm finally settled, Antony was alone with the doorway.

He stepped through, and was met with a room of pristine white. It was perfectly symmetrical, and at least three times his height. A series of dotted lines divided each wall into nine equal segments. Chunks of dislodged concrete peppered the floor and stuck impossibly to the ceiling. The ceiling lines, however, remained perfectly intact.

"Hello? Is there someone…" Antony croaked out to the whiteness.

He wanted to say more — his tongue was already twisted into position for the next word — but his mouth went limp. A blanket fell onto Antony's mind, and tied his thoughts down. A rebellious syllable would sometimes escape, but its followers would immediately be washed away. He let out a silent groan, rubbing his temples.

Then his body entered freefall. At least, that was the closest thing he could compare it to. His hair spiked as cold air rushed in and out of his lungs, forcing him to breathe. He fell to his knees. Was this his fate? To be paralyzed in a blank room for all of eternity. Was this what banishment entailed? He was riddled with theories, but none stuck.

A wave of fire swept across Antony's hands. His back arched, and his legs slowly rose. Antony whipped his body around and saw a naked man with jet-black skin. The man tilted his head, allowing Antony to view his featureless face. As Antony climbed to the ceiling, he kept his eyes trained on the man. He looked as lifeless as the concrete he was standing on.

Antony landed on his back, and searched for somewhere to anchor himself. He chose a corner near a large crevice. Wiping blood and sweat from his ears, he returned his gaze to the man. He wasn't there. Antony scanned his surroundings hundreds of times, but there was no sign that any living thing besides him had spent a second in this room.

"Please!" Antony cried out, the sharp sound making him clutch his ears. "Please," he whispered, "if you're outside of the Council, then please… let me leave. There are so many more… fucking idiots that will come here. You can let one go."

Antony rested his head against the wall as he waited for a response. Tears were pooling in his eyes, but none were foolish enough to show themselves to this man. This entity.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done any of this. I don't know why I did…"

He began to rise. His vision darted to a chunk of debris that could weigh him down, but his dangling arms lost the will to reach out. He closed his eyes, ready to be obliterated in one brutal, instantaneous moment. Instead, he felt relief wash over him as he approached the center of the room.

Antony felt renewed, like he had woken up from a dream. When his vision was freed, a rotary plate of scenes greeted it. A child in an orange jumpsuit rocking back and forth below him, a ghost in a lab coat typing on a computer above him, and a group of thirteen devils beside him. Each one appeared, disappeared, and reappeared as the room spun around Antony. He laughed. He didn't know why — and he didn't particularly want to — but he did.

After days of viewing scene after scene, however, Antony's grin faded. These people weren't real. They couldn't live or breathe or think for themselves. These were visions designed to season his soul before it was consumed by whatever sick anomaly was doing this to him. He was going to die, and he refused to give into happy fantasies.

"Stop," he said.

Antony swallowed, the sound echoing across the chamber. He began counting down from one-hundred, hoping to lose consciousness at seventy. But all was quiet as he reached sixty and fifty and forty. Upon his next revolution, Antony saw it sitting on the floor above him. It was smaller, and tossed a blue kickball to itself, which fell and rose and fell and rose in a melodic cycle.

It swiveled its neck to Antony, and approached. Each silent step wrenched the knot in Antony's throat deeper and deeper. Adrenaline shot through his brain, the last line of defense in a dying system. It stood, face to shivering face, in front of Antony, letting the kickball roll away into nothingness.

"Please," Antony begged.

A bud prickled in his neck, the jewel in a necklace of vines which wrapped around his mind. The prickling spread across his neck and chest, before suddenly snapping in a deafening roar of panic. Antony's neck opened, releasing a floodgate of blood and saliva up his face. He desperately tried to hold his neck closed as sheets of crimson crawled up his face, choking him.

His hands felt numb, though, and useless. His body failed to respond to any command, and Antony watched the color slowly filter out of his fingers. It dribbled out of his palm, chewing through the floor to form another deep-seated crack. Antony continued fighting as his vision turned from white to red to black.

And then the room was empty.

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